Austrian freelance journalist Max Zirngast was arrested by anti-terror police at his home in Ankara on 11 September 2018. He was taken into custody along with Mithatcan Türetken and Hatice Göz, members of a socialist initiative called Toplumsal Özgürlük Partisi (social liberty party).
The German-language periodical Re:volt, which publishes work by Zirngast, announced the journalist’s detention on Twitter, saying Zirngast was detained on “terrorism-related charges” and “most probably over political publications.”
Following the news, Austrian government spokesman Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal released a statement, calling on Turkey to either reveal the reasons for Zirngast’s arrest or release the journalist immediately. Launsky-Tieffenthal also said the Austrian Embassy in Ankara would be offering consular assistance to Zirngast.
After spending a total of nine days in custody, twice extended for four days, on 20 September 2018, Zirngast, Göz and Türetken appeared before a prosecutor to give their statements, in which they denied the accusations against them. The evidence against Zirngast included possessing books by the Marxist thinker Hikmet Kıvılcımlı, photographs taken by militants from terrorist organizations and contacts with left-wing organizations. Zirngast said he owned political materials because he was researching the political history of Turkey. Zirngast said that he had written articles for the Turkish socialist monthly Toplumsal Özgürlük. He denied having any involvement in illegal activities or organizations. Zirngast said, “I am a socialist, I defend universal values.”
Zirngast, Türetken and Göz were then referred to the Ankara 4th Criminal Judgeship of Peace where Zirngast told the judge that he had been living in Turkey for three years, that he was a graduate student at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) and a translator.
His lawyer Murat Yılmaz presented the decisions of two separate courts, one in Adana and another in Ankara, in which it was ruled that the organization “TKP Kıvılcım” did not exist.
Türetken and Göz also denied being members of the said group.
Following their statements, all three were jailed pending trial on the grounds of “strong suspicion of crime” and for “posing flight risk.”
The indictment against Zirngast, Türetken, Göz and activist Burçin Tekdemir (undetained defendant in the case) was submitted in December and the three detained defendants were freed on 24 December 2018 after the case was accepted by the 26th High Criminal Court of Ankara. Imposing an international travel ban on all four defendants, including Zirngast, the Ankara court set 11 April 2019 as the date for the first hearing.
The first hearing in the trial took place on 11 April 2019 at the Ankara 26th High Criminal Court. All four defendants and their lawyers were in attendance. Addressing the court for their defense statements, the defendants rejected the accusations against them. Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for the continuation of the international travel ban imposed on the accused and adjourned the trial until 11 September 2019.
The second hearing of the trial was held on 11 September 2019. Zirngast and his co-defendants Göz and Tekdemir were in attendance with their lawyers. Türetken did not attend. Presenting their final opinion of the case, the prosecution requested the acquittal of all four defendants since no evidence had been found that could prove the allegation that they were members of a terrorist organization called “TKP/Kıvılcım.”
Issuing its verdict after hearing the final defense statements, the court acquitted Zirngast and his co-defendants of “membership of a terrorist organization.” The court also ruled for the international travel ban imposed on the defendants to be lifted.
Investigation in Austria
On 11 December 2019, Zirngast announced via Twitter that a few weeks ago he had found out through a letter he was sent by the Austrian government that a separate investigation against him, based on the one in Turkey, was conducted by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism in Austria. The investigation was not concluded until the case was finalized with his acquittal in Turkey. Zirngast explained that he was not formally notified about the investigation against him in Austria until after it was concluded.